Central Italian river / THU 5-25-17 / Pet with dewlap beret / Wait in strategic location in video game lingo

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Constructor: Erik Agard

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: I'LL GO FIRST (54A: Trailblazer's declaration ... or a hint to 17-, 19-, 34- and 51-Across) — Familiar phrases where the last words have been changed simply by moving the letter "I" to the "First" position, resulting in a new words and wacky phrases and wacky "?" clues, huzzah!

Theme answers:
  • PURPLE IRAN (17A: Possible result of spilling grape juice on a map of the Middle East?)
  • FRENCH IGUANA (19A: Pet with a dewlap and a beret?)
  • ROLL OF ICONS (34A: Pantheon list?)
  • COVER IVERSON (51A: Guard the 2001 N.B.A. M.V.P.?) 
Word of the Day: FAN ART (11D: Some derivative drawings) —
Fan art, or fanart, are artworks created by fans of a work of fiction (generally visual media such as comics, film, television shows, or video games) and derived from a series character or other aspect of that work. As fan labor, fan art refers to artworks that are neither created nor (normally) commissioned or endorsed by the creators of the work from which the fan art derives. // A different, older meaning of the term is used in science fiction fandom, where fan art traditionally describes original (rather than derivative) artwork related to science fiction or fantasy, created by fan artists, and appearing in low- or non-paying publications such as semiprozines or fanzines, and in the art shows of science fiction conventions. The Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist has been given each year since 1967 for artists who create such works. Like the term fan fiction (although to a lesser extent), this traditional meaning is now sometimes confused with the more recent usage described above. (wikipedia)
• • •

Very tough, mainly because of the themers, which refused to give themselves up without a ton of crosses. The wacky clues were often very little help at getting to anything specific, and without the revealer, it's very hard to see any link among the anagrammed words, or any consistency at all in the themers. After finally locking down the first two, I was certain the theme was geographical—what are the odds of having both Iran and French Guiana involved in anagrams in the first two themers, and then having that theme *not* be about geography? Well, those odds are probably incalculable, and anyway, if I'd been paying closer attention, I'd realize that those countries were "involved" in different ways—i.e. one was the anagram itself, the other was anagrammed into something else. Because I was looking for countries, later themers were especially rough. ROLL OF --- had me unable to think of *any word* that could go there, even in the base phrase. ROLL OF ... the dice. That was all my brain kept doing. Plus I wanted whatever that last word was to be an anagram of a country (!).  Plus I don't think of gods of the Pantheon as "ICONS" (had IDOLS for a bit). This is what I mean about the clues being almost no help at getting to the actual answers. The worst case of this was, unfortunately, the revealer clue. A "Trailblazer" just goes, unannounced, and does Big, Important things heretofore unaccomplished. "I'LL GO FIRST" is not something a trailblazer would say. It's what someone in couples therapy would say. It's a banal statement for a quotidian situation and has zip to do with "trailblazing." That said, cluing aside, this theme is kind of amazing (even if it did take me almost two minutes of confused staring before I understood it)—simply move the "I" to the front, get a new word. Nice twist on the anagram-type theme.

The fill is pretty polished. Hard to pull off when you stack *theme* answers right on top of each other like that (I think of this as "Merling," since Merl Reagle stacked themers All The Time in his Sunday puzzles). Look at all the Downs running through those stacks of themers. There's really nothing bad. Nothing even mildly wince-y. This is what I admire, and see so little of—craft and polish. Dedication to the details, and especially to making sure you are sacrificing the rest of the puzzle on the altar of The Theme. It's not that there's No crosswordese in this thing—you can see repeaters hither and YON: PSA, ALI, OLE, ELI, MDI, ELLA). But now that I type even those answers out, the only one I'd try to ditch if I could is MDI. Maybe ENDO-, if possible. In short, there's not much to fault in the the fill. Considering the theme density, that's really quite impressive.

Tough parts:
  • 4D: Many a Trump property (GOLF RESORT) — seems straightfoward enough, but having GOL- coming out of the gate, I wrote in GOLD-PLATED. Later, I had GOLF COURSE (w/ REBOUND in the cross—21A: Public relations pivot (REBRAND))
  • 13A: Goes high (SOARS) — having tried ALDER for 5D: Wood that doesn't burn easily (ASPEN), I went with LEAPS here, and ouch. ALDER and NARC and SLID all confirmed ("confirmed") LEAPS ... until later crosses unconfirmed it.
  • 55A: Wait in a strategic location, in video game lingo (CAMP) — ah, video game lingo, the one knowledge sphere there's actually no hope I'll ever master, or get any purchase on whatsoever. I had CAMO. It's a good guess, I think.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Letter carrier at Hogwarts / WED 5-24-17 / Initialism whose third initial often isn't true / High airfare season for short / 20th century author famous for her journals

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Constructor: Michael Hawkins

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "... as a plumber?" — ordinary phrases are clued as if they had something to do with a plumber's behavior:

Theme answers:
  • RUNS HOT AND COLD (20A: Vacillates, as a plumber?)
  • ALL TAPPED OUT (26A: Exhausted, as a plumber?)  (I've heard TAPPED OUT on its own, but add the "ALL" and then I've only heard ALL TIRED OUT or ALL TUCKERED OUT)
  • DOWN THE DRAIN (43A: Wasted, to a plumber?)
  • SINKING FEELING (52A: Anxiety, to a plumber?)
Word of the Day: Buddy EBSEN (62A: Actor Buddy of "The Beverly Hillbillies") —
Christian Ludolf "Buddy" Ebsen (Jr) (April 2, 1908 – July 6, 2003) was an American singer, dancer, author, film, television and character actor, whose career spanned seven decades. He had also appeared as a guest on several talk and variety shows. The SAG-AFTRA records also show him as Frank "Buddy" Ebsen. // Originally a dancer, Ebsen began his long career in films in 1935, beginning with Jack Benny in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Maureen O'Hara in They Met in Argentina (1941) and June Havoc in Sing Your Worries Away (1942). He also danced with child star Shirley Temple in Captain January (1936), released the same year. Cast as the Tin Man in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, Ebsen fell ill due to the aluminum dust in his makeup and was forced to drop out of the film. In Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), he portrayed Doc Golightly, the much older husband of Audrey Hepburn's character. He also had a successful television career, including playing Davy Crockett's sidekick, George Russell, in Walt Disney's Davy Crockett miniseries (1953–54). But he is best remembered for starring in the CBS television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–1971) as Jed Clampett. He also played the title character in the television detective drama Barnaby Jones (1973–1980), also on CBS. Ebsen had a cameo role in the 1993 film version of The Beverly Hillbillies, not as Jed Clampett, but as Barnaby Jones.
• • •

This is a fine puzzle if the year is 1987 ... is it? ... [looks at calendar] ... nope. Corny, tame puns, with mostly dull, well-worn (if not terrible) fill. Not much to say about this one. Themers all involve plumbing-related wordplay. Kind of a narrow definition of what plumbers do. Two answers related to taps, two related to sinks, which means they're all related to sinks, I guess. Nothing about leaks or drips or snakes or ... look, I don't know. What am I, a plumber? I just know these are very safe, not at all outlandish or funny or even interesting answers. The most interesting part of the puzzle, which was also the hardest part of the puzzle, was the SW corner, specifically those two long Downs. They were very tough to pick up—well, tough for me, as I made the mistake of writing ESL in at 40A: Lang. course (ENG.) (it could never have been ESL, of course, since the "L" *stands* for "Lang."). Both GAG WRITER and I'M NOT SURE feel like party-crashers, like they were in a different ballroom, at a much cooler party, and accidentally stumbled into a seminar on tax preparation. Anyway, that anomalous pair of answers, I liked. The rest you can have back.

I've given myself so many lessons on the EPSOM / EPSON / EBSEN distinction, but apparently none of the them have taken. It's the vowel-in-the-fourth-position that's the (primary) problem. EBS-N!? Maybe if I just remember that the P versions take the O and the B takes the E. Maybe? Probably not. STOKERS? That one also took me a while to pick up (41D: Steamship workers). I wasn't AGASP (!), it's just that "steamship" conjures up a whole mess of old-timeyness, and STOKERS wasn't in my mental picture. I don't think I even knew "stoker" was a specific job title. Nothing else about this puzzle caused me too much trouble, and I finished in the same time as yesterday, which was the same time as the day before. Weird week.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


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